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No. 122: Mar-Apr 1999

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Another Sucker

Female beaked whales are usually toothless, and the males only have a couple of teeth that are used for fighting rivals. Yet, these whales have no problem catching and consuming their swift, fishy prey. Apparently, they first stun their dinners acoustically and then suck them in with the pump-like action of their muscular tongues. (AR#2 and BMA25 in Mammals I)

Occasionally, whalers have caught sperm whales with congenital, grossly twisted jaws that are completely useless in hunting, yet these animals thrive on a rich diet of fast, elusive squid. A. Werth of Hampden-Sydney College theorizes that these much larger cetaceans also suck in their prey just like the beaked whales.

Sperm whales also generate sound pulses so strong that they can very likely stun the giant squid, their preferred food, as they pursue them with their sonar in miledeep blackness. (BMO10 in Mammals II)

(Pennisi, Elizabeth; "Coming to Grips with Whale Anatomy," Science, 283:475, 1999.)

Comment. Sperm whales and beaked whales are only distantly related, so that we have an interesting example of the triple parallel evolution of hunting strategy, acoustic-stunning capability, and large, piston-like tongues.

Sperm whales may stun their prey with high intensity sound Sperm whales may stun their prey with high intensity sound

From Science Frontiers #122, MAR-APR 1999. 1999-2000 William R. Corliss